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Offensive Line Rankings Analysis: Week 7

In Week 6, we once again saw some great football, starting with the New England Patriots continuing their undefeated start to the season and ending with one of the most controversial games of the week as the Green Bay Packers overcame the Detroit Lions. The London games continued with Jameis Winston struggling once again, this time throwing five interceptions against the Panthers. Meanwhile, the Steelers were able to surprise the Los Angeles Chargers and claim the win despite having to start their third choice quarterback. A big part of the reason for their victory came thanks to the impressive play of the offensive line, which allowed their quarterback time to breathe and make good decisions.

Good offensive line play gives a team the best chance to be effective. However, a lot of fantasy owners completely overlook its importance to identify the reasons behind a player's struggles. Is he being handicapped by the protection ahead of him and actually performing as well as they can, or are they struggling despite effective play from their offensive line?

Using PFF's player grading tool, each week I will identify an offensive line that has been trending up, and one trending down. More importantly, I will analyze how those trends might be affecting, or might be about to affect your fantasy roster over the next few weeks. If you want to look at the raw data and my applied method, feel free to message me on Twitter @RichKingFF - I'm happy to share!

Editor's Note: Get any rest-of-season NFL Premium Pass for 50% off. Our exclusive DFS Tools, Lineup Optimizer and Premium DFS Research through the Super Bowl. Sign Up Now!


Offensive Line to Watch - Pittsburgh Steelers

Pass Blocking

We are all aware that the Steelers have an issue at quarterback. Ben Roethlisberger is on the injured reserve with an elbow injury and a hard hit to Mason Rudolph has forced him to miss time. However, one thing third-string quarterback Devlin Hodges has in his favor is the play of his team's offensive line.

The group actually ranks ninth-best in the league when it comes to their pass-blocking grading (taking into account the ability of the whole line). This ranking comes from their ability to protect the fringes of the pocket, with both of the team's starting tackles ranking in the top-32 among all tackles (with RT Matt Feller ranked fifth in the league).

The interior line is equally impressive with David DeCastro ranking eighth at the position. The issue the Steelers still have is that the left guard and center positions have been exposed, with Ramon Foster and Maurice Pouncey ranking in the bottom half of the league at their respective positions.

Run Blocking

Run blocking has always been a traditional strength of the Steelers, and that protection allowed previous back Le'Veon Bell to take time before hitting a hole and make defenses suffer if they could not lay a hand on him. This season, however, the team rank just fractionally above average (13th) in run blocking ths season.

As I mentioned above, the Steelers have needed to rely on their backup quarterback options. That has led to teams choosing to try and force the Steelers to pass the ball to win the game, limiting the time that James Conner has had in the backfield to pick his gaps. This has led to Conner failing to deliver the yardage totals that his touches would normally allow. However, he has been able to recoup his fantasy value with touchdowns. Once again it is the right side of the line that has been impressive, with the left-side being the issue. That can also be seen in looking at the running back's running charts on NFL's Next Gen Stats.


Fantasy Impact

Trust: James Conner

The Steelers running back has been given plenty of opportunity out of the backfield, and while the blocking isn't at the level it was historically, the line should improve and allow Conner the space to increase his yardage totals to match the touchdown numbers this season.

Conner also represents a fantastic outlet for the quarterback out of the backfield, especially with Jaylen Samuels currently sidelined.

Cause for Concern: JuJu Smith-Schuster

Given where owners were forced to select him, Smith-Schuster has disappointed. However, that doesn't seem to be an issue with the protection being afforded to the team- it's a quarterback issue. The Steelers have had to dig deep into their depth chart this season, something that won't change in 2019 with Roethlisberger missing the rest of the year. The team is entering their bye week before a great matchup against the Miami Dolphins. If he impresses in that matchup, it might be best to try and shift him for value before his stock take a downturn again.


Offensive Line to Avoid - Atlanta Falcons

The Atlanta Falcons had a clear objective this season; to invest in their offensive line. Unfortunately, the additions that they have made are yet to have the impact they would have hoped for. Currently, the Falcons rank as one of the worst offensive line units in the NFL.

Pass Blocking

The Falcons problems start with their struggle in pass blocking. Jake Matthews ranks 22nd in the league among tackles, barely making it into starting consideration.

Unfortunately, he is the team's highest-ranked offensive lineman according to PFF's metrics, narrowly beating Center Alex Mack. The inability of the team to be able to set the edge (as the Steelers are able to) with effective tackle play then, in turn, puts more pressure on the guards to perform, which they have not been able to do this season.

Run Blocking

Just a handful of seasons ago there were two running back options that worked in perfect tandem, behind a line that allowed them to punish defenders. Now the Atlanta Falcons are barely able to get anything moving on the ground, with Devonta Freeman logging just two games where he was able to get over 30 rushing yards (albeit those two were 88-yard performances).

There isn't a single player who stands out as the main culprit for the struggles that there have been in previous weeks because the entire unit is struggling. Frankly, the running game of the Atlanta Falcons isn't performing and this group needs to make a big improvement before we can rely on anyone in that backfield.


Fantasy Impact

Trust: Austin Hooper

When most teams start to struggle to protect their quarterback they do one of two things. They either keep their tight end in to help block defenders, or they target them on short routes when the pocket collapses and the quarterback is looking for a big target with safe hands.

It seems the Falcons have opted to target their tight end, with Hooper having caught 42 passes already this season. With the current tight end landscape, the floor Hooper offers, combined with the opportunity is massive. If you are able to pick him up in trade at a reasonable price still then you really should.

Cause for Concern: Devonta Freeman/ Calvin Ridley

I opted for a double pick here, with the obvious struggles of the offensive line limiting the ability of Freeman to get fully involved in games on the ground, which massively limits his floor and makes him inconsistent.

The other selection of Ridley is around the target share he is receiving and will receive going forward. Julio Jones is the team's first option in the passing game, and unlike last season Hooper has regularly been the second look this season. With the time that Matt Ryan is given in the pocket, he does not often get to his third read before facing significant pressure. That is bad news for Ridley, who until he proves he can be safe outlet, will continue to remain buried in the progressions on most plays.


Top Five Offensive Lines

1) Dallas Cowboys
2) Indianapolis Colts
3) Philadelphia Eagles
4) Baltimore Ravens
5) Detroit Lions


Bottom Five Offensive Lines

32) Miami Dolphins
31) Los Angeles Rams
30) Cincinnati Bengals
29) Atlanta Falcons
28) New York Jets

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